The Times, the Post, and The Wall Street Journal already have stories, B-roll, interactives, and graphics “in the oven”; news trucks have been camped outside the Justice Department; the home of William Barr, the attorney general …
Last night, CNN, NBC, and MSNBC were abuzz with speculation that the special counsel has all but wrapped his findings and is getting ready to deliver them to the Justice Department. Across the networks, the words “any time now” did a lotof work. On Anderson Cooper’s show, John Dean—the White House counsel who turned on Nixon during Watergate and has, consequently, seen this all before—said that he doesn’t think Mueller is done yet; the White House, Dean speculated, could have started the rumor that the report is imminent to make the process look drawn out. In the studio, Shimon Prokupecz, CNN’s crime and justice reporter, disagreed. “I don’t think we would be told a report is coming any day now if there were other indictments,” he said. Who was right? Who knows?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard, on several occasions, that the Mueller report was about to drop. In its continued absence, reporters on the Mueller beat have been busy interpreting signs. Andrew Weissman, a top prosecutor for Mueller, is stepping down. What does that mean? Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who was stepping down, is now staying a bit longer. What does that mean? Staff are carrying boxes out of the special counsel’s office. Yesterday’s speculation felt particularly feverish. But it’s hard to tell, at least from the outside, whether that reflects a change in reality or the bored angst of journalists.
Triangulating clues seems necessary because Mueller’s investigation is “hermetically sealed,” as The New YorkTimes put it. His office has been remarkably impervious to leaks; when he communicates, it’s almost always through court documents. In recent weeks, the most useful journalism has stuck to what we know for sure: The Washington Post and the Times, for instance, produced graphics linking important figures to key events. Last month, Chad Day and Eric Tucker of the Associated Press explained that we already know a great deal about Mueller’s findings; his collected court filings, they wrote, are a report hiding in plain sight. Yesterday, Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent at ABC News, struck a similar note, pointing to a “potential road map” in the form of a letter that Rosenstein sent to the Senate last year. “The bottom line,” Karl said, “do not expect a harsh condemnation of President Donald Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes.”
Still, major news outlets are ready to move. According to Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo, the Times, the Post, and The Wall Street Journal already have stories, B-roll, interactives, and graphics “in the oven”; news trucks have been camped outside the Justice Department; the home of William Barr, the attorney general; and other places. Yesterday, photographers snapped pictures of Mueller driving to his office.
Whatever happens next, and whenever it happens, the clearest truth we have is that the report will not be the end of the Mueller story. Since 2017—when the investigation was authorized, to determine whether Russia interfered in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency—it’s been talked about in dramatic terms: as an epic mystery leading up to a big final reveal. But that’s never been realistic. As Jeffrey Toobin wrote last month for The New Yorker, Watergate “was like Shakespeare—a drama that built to a satisfying climax,” but Mueller “is more like Beckett—a mystifying tragicomedy that may drift into irresolution.” It’s a compelling analogy. Then again, who knows? A Hollywood ending could come today.